Touch and Bonding between Species


....more about a professional approach to touch


The EndoTapping Method of JP Giocomini




The Bond


Touch and Bonding between Species
A philosophy of animal massage.
Our animals share social behaviors that make them true companions for us.  Our nonverbal languages, our instant understanding....these are what allow us to bond. 

Dogs and horses have shared our lives for so long that some of us cannot imagine life without them.  Paleontologists continue to come up with older fossils suggesting an even earlier dates of domestication.  We don't know who started the 'domestication', or which of us is actually the domesticated one.  Imagine that first glance between wild canine and early man, that first agreement.   The first stroke.  Or the first time man reached out and was able to touch a horse.

People who study human behavior have claimed recently that the dog is a better model for some human social interactions than the chimp, despite our close overall genetic relationship with the higher primates.  Apparently a small part of the dog genome, and presumably a small part of ours, has been influenced by our long romance, by selection for the unique compatibility we have together.  Until socially, we are kin.  (So they actually ARE part of the family!)  Finally, a partial answer to the question of why the bond is so strong.

Nobody knows exactly the biological or genetic part of our kinship with horses - but it is obviously there, for some of us.

At the same time, in order for that bond to be the right kind, it must match the creatures that we and the horse, or we and the dog, really are.  It is very easy to imagine what these wonderful animal companions are, sometimes not so easy to understand what they really are - as dogs, as horses.
If we deprive them of the chance to BE horses, or BE dogs, or confuse them by our own lack of understanding, by wanting from them something that isn't a proper part of a healthy relationship with them, or by not providing what they really need from us....then the relationship suffers, and there can sometimes be confusion and pain for both animal and human. 
Often, the animal is blamed for his reactions to these problems.  Actually, it is we who are often responsible for their misbehaviors, simply because we do not understand enough about who and what they are and need, and because it is hard for us humans to be consistent and to develop good timing in our communications.  Animals are much better at consistency and timing with each other!!  Their reactions and communications are exactly the same, every time, delivered in the same way, with the same rhythm.
Touch is such an important part of communicating and bonding.  To an animal, and between animals, every single touch means something.  Every single touch means something to us, too, when we are touching another person.  Friendliness, curiousity, comfort, support, correction - these touches are all guidance to communicate.
When we try to communicate and bond with an animal who is different from us, who has his own interpretations which are not the same as ours, it is our responsibility to enter into their 'culture' as much as we can.  Of course he also must (and has chosen somehow during domestication) enter into our 'culture' and try to understand us.  Still, it is our responsibility as the dominant partner to be well informed and compassionate.
Many of the ways we touch animals satisfy our needs more than theirs.  It takes thought and time to learn how to touch an animal during daily activities in ways that truly mean to him what we mean to say.  
Because most of our relationships (with humans too!) are not ideal, there is room for some tension, confusion, and misbehavior in our animal companions.
Massage for animals, at its best, is a way to help smooth the way for companion animals, to neutralize the confusion, and to establish a relationship to human touch which paves the way for a more highly developed relationship with humans.
For this reason, it is a wonderful thing for owners to learn to massage their own animals.  Not everyone is going to do this, though, and just as any kind of therapy from a trained provider improves the life of the recipient, massage for animals improves their lives.  They live in a human world, and even the best human environment has its stresses.
Being a provider of touch for animals of all kinds and with all kinds of needs - that is the privilege of being an animal massage practitioner.
More about a professional approach to touch with animals.....
We make a huge mistake if we do not approach touch with animals using their own social behaviors.  They adapt their approaches to us, especially the dog, who does such a good job of reflecting our social behavior that dogs have recently been declared the best species (over the chimpanzee) for modelling and predicting some social behaviors in humans!
An informed approach, exemplified by such simple formal 'manners' as allowing a dog or horse to sniff the non-threatening back of the hand, allows the beginnings of relaxation which are essential to the work.  It also begins a relationship which can lead to more far-reaching effects.  There are other, more subtle elements in interacting with any animal, specific to him, his breed, and his species.
There are also things which might make sense to us, but which we should learn to avoid working with other people's animals: common areas of confused relationship between owners and their animals.  As an example, the phrase ‘good dog’ is used by many owners as a multipurpose expression rather than a consistent reinforcer of desired behaviors.  It is spoken when a treat is given for good behavior (operant conditioning), but unfortunately it is also used to soothe an apprehensive animal, which simply  reinforces (trains) that behavior, or to distract him just at the moment of a painful procedure or capture; in horses, all too often just at the moment of an injection or, worse, during a moment of panic.  The phrase can become associated with situations where trust has been compromised.
So, better for us to use sounds or syllables which work as a kind of praise for relaxation, for focus, and for informing the body and mind through touch.
The freedom eventually during a session to touch various parts of the animal’s body requires the animal’s confidence in both his own abilities to protect himself at whatever level he has learned necessary so far in his life, whatever he believes he is maintaining around humans. 
Every animal, no matter how docile and friendly, has boundaries which have to be maintained and addressed gently while the work is done.  He makes a decision upon meeting each new human, or one with whom he has limited experience, where these boundaries need to be – based on the human’s ignorance of his social protocol, or ability to speak his, the animal’s language.
That leads to a definition of the language that may be shared (instantly or over time) between species. And that is the subject of much active academic research. In general, by now our domestic animals have some genetically endowed ability to read us as we talk. Still, the talking we do with them is secondary except for tone of voice and our breathing. 
Perhaps most important is a level of body language which we all display and which is now being called ‘idiomotor movement’ because it is not consciously processed, the very fine movements and postures which convey our intent or reaction, state of mind or relaxation.  In other words, the finest nonverbal language, used instinctively or by training by actors, dancers, mimes, orators, other entertainers, and sometimes sociopaths.   Facial expressions alone involve muscle coordinations beyond what can be processed consciously.  We may wonder sometimes how we knew what a person was thinking, or what he will do next.  Unconscious reading of fine motor control is certainly part of it, together with other unconscious sensory contributors (smell of phermones or electric or magnetic fields, to go the distance into the unknown for what it is worth!).
The EndoTapping Method of JP Giacomini

"Research is to see what everybody else has seen and to think what nobody else has thought."

Albert Szent-Gyorgi

'EndoTapping' is a modification of a trauma recovery/panic/addiction treatment method for humans which links horse training and behavior modification with physical therapy and bodywork, which gives us a practical and elegant door to the connection between the body and mind of the horse.

It is well known that relaxation at a deep level is an essential element of the best athletic performance. It is also well known that the relaxation response can be taught through conditioning . Entire subcultures of human endeavor exist as a result of the development of techniques for inducing relaxation in self and others . In the training and riding of horses, while there are many techniques and formats for training in many disciplines, across all disciplines relaxation and harmony remain elusive goals for many.

This lack of systematic relaxation produces tremendous problems for trainers, owners, and the horses themselves. Our ignorance of relaxation techniques in modern horse training and our lack of adequate time in most training programs to proceed through a hierarchy of training goals with a relaxed, supple horse cause many of the performance problems, injuries, frustrations, and disappointments in the horse-human relationship. The tension and apprehension experienced by many owners and riders blocks completely their hope of a full partnership with their horses.

In classical horsemanship during centuries past, at least in the idealized versions we hear of today, the possibility of supple relaxation in performance was enhanced by the depth of experience of both riders and horses. Traditions were rich; resources were great; lifetimes were spent learning the art of horsemanship; and young horses were handled in such a way as to ease them one step at a time (frequently with multiple handlers present) through the training situations which might provoke the flight response. Today, all too often, horse training is a one-person task, time is short, and competition demands are high on the hierarchy. It should not surprise us that the problems in our horse-person relationship parallel the problems in our families, our societies, and our world.

The western-oriented methods which have gained popularity with horse owners have spread awareness of the importance of relaxation outside of classical horsemanship.

The goals of these methods have remained focused on the individual amateur horse owner, especially those relatively new to horse ownership, and while there is some detail in their protocols, they lack the benefits of the precise biomechanical awareness of more classical methods and are often costly and require extensive investment of time and energy. The art and science of EndoTapping arrive at a time when the horse world is badly in need of relaxation, suppleness, and harmony.

Equally important, the technique extends beyond relaxation into training techniques that, while derived from the most classical forms, are within the reach of everyone. It can influence virtually every phase of the horse-human interaction, whether used for relaxation itself, or for stimulating elements of the movement patterns of the horse from the ground or from the saddle. What can take a lifetime to learn to do from the saddle can be installed through EndoTapping in a few weeks' study by the amateur owner or the professional trainer. This technique cultivates systematic relaxation in the horse and informs the handler in ways which improve his finesse and awareness.

As a research professional in biological sciences, a dressage rider, and a 30 year veteran of animal breeding, behavior and training, and human and equine bodywork, I have followed the development of the various (primarily Western style) horsemanship techniques with interest. I found parts worthwhile and usable, and other parts difficult to justify in terms of the kind of horse I work with, a larger horse with some physical issues and vulnerable hocks. Working on a small circle or even a large circle without being very correct about straightness and bend made me nervous.

I find that the body of work associated with EndoTapping offers a simple approach to many of the same problems addressed by the various western horsemanship protocols and many more, up to the most difficult and elusive problems that challenge upper level dressage riders and trainers.

Because I am a researcher by training and instinct, a licensed massage practitioner for humans and horses, and have now spent some years working with this technique, I have considered possible mechanisms by which the EndoTapping method of Jean-Philippe Giacomini works. As a massage practitioner, it is striking to me how quickly the tapping works. There are times, particularly with a very guarded horse, when I could use ordinary massage strokes on the same muscles for quite a period of time and still not get the rapidity and completeness of relaxation that comes from tapping! This suggests a reflexive response, and that is what I believe it is.

I believe tapping works through several concomitant effects on the body and mind of the horse; there are obvious possibilities related to the physiology of muscle and nerve which are part of the modern understanding of kinesiology and biomechanics and which might explain effects of EndoTapping on the relaxation state (and thus the mental focus and ability to learn) of the horse in its first level application, which is tapping at specific locations on muscles of locomotion and balance. Second level application of the tapping yields other effects, including muscle balancing, stretching, true bending, balancing and lengthening of stride, and ultimately self-carriage.

The technique itself can perhaps best be described as interactive tapotement (tapotement is a French term for percussive massage, one of the classical strokes, used most commonly in American bodywork for invigorating muscle, but used very commonly in China and Europe for spot relaxation when the instrument used is of an appropriate size and shape). This tapotement is interactive in the sense that the firmness of the tapping is modified to adapt to the behavioral reaction of the horse, and so the mechanism varies to some extent as the horse goes through the stages of reaction to the tapping itself:  1) Noticing (which may include some avoidance behavior, confusion with the request of an aid, or resistance),  2) Ignoring (becoming still, attempting to outwait the tapping) and finally  3) Release, the stage we are interested in exploring as a function of its possible physiologic mechanisms.

As I mentioned above, the effectiveness and quickness of this tapotement, especially once the response has been conditioned, is striking. Traditional massage techniques like effluerage, compression, cross-fiber friction, direct pressure, and the like, are specific in the areas they affect (there is a distinct regional effect with EndoTapping, perhaps because of the penetration of the vibration through to neighboring tissues, thus integrating the nervous system effects), and do not always result in the overall relaxation that this method yields, possibly as a result of endorphin release.

It is of interest that, during the period of ignoring the stimulus, the EndoTapping protocol calls for increasing the firmness of tapping, sometimes to a level that is very firm, in order to secure the release, and that horses vary enormously in their individual requirements for pressure of the touch and their rates of adaptation. Each part of the body varies with the individual horse as well, based on stored tension, body memory, and physical history. Old traumas, emotional residues from training techniques and devices, and positional memory all contribute, in all likelihood, to the response at each site that is tapped.

The first level application of tapping with each horse is simply to relax muscle and, with it, mind. How does this work?

In the muscle itself, there are two anatomical elements well recognized in the science surrounding the physiology of muscle that probably contribute to the relaxation effect.

The first is the muscle spindle cell, a specialized nerve-muscle hybrid, which is embedded at particular sites in muscle and which acts in extreme situations to protect the muscle from tearing: when the muscle and with it the spindle cell are stretched very suddenly beyond the neurological limit programmed by the body, the spindle cell communicates with the central nervous system to cause the muscle to contract suddenly, which in turn protects it from tearing.

In human massage therapy, the muscle spindle cell can be manipulated manually by causing it to bunch, shortening the cells involved in sensing tension and communicating with the nervous system, and as a result the muscle relaxes whatever tension has developed through earlier stretching of the muscle spindle cell by trauma. In other words, the muscle spindle cell is reset to relaxation, causing the muscle cell to relax and return to optimal function.

The exact location of all the muscle spindle cells in each muscle is the subject of much research. Some mapping has been done to allow specific manipulation to effect change through this mechanism (refs). It is very likely that muscle spindle cells in the horse will be homologous, and it will be possible to clarify the role of these cells in tapotement in the horse.

So how might EndoTapping effect relaxation through action on the muscle spindle cell? Assuming a degree of abnormal contraction from mechanical stress, that is residual tension, in a muscle, tapotement, quick and direct as it is, might pulse a bunching of the muscle spindle cell(s) adjacent to the site of tapping. The mechanical force of the tapping travels radially through tissue around the site of tapping, so it makes sense that those spindle cells oriented in a radial pattern there would experience a reduction in tension in their nerve fibers, and send a message to the central nervous system which would result in relaxation of the muscles served by those spindle cells.

The second anatomical element in muscle resides at the junction of the muscle itself and the tendon, which attaches every muscle to the bone which it acts upon to produce movement. This element is called the Golgi tendon organ, and its purpose is the opposite of the muscle spindle cell: when its intrinsic nerve fibers sense a sudden stretching, its communication with the central nervous system causes a relaxation of the muscle. The purpose of this nerve programming is to protect the muscle itself from pulling loose from the tendon, damaging the musculo-tendinous junction.

In its action upon this anatomical element, EndoTapping very likely supplies the pulse of sudden stretching of the Golgi tendon organ needed for relaxation of that particular muscle as it responds to protect its musculo-tendinous junction. And it is that very suddenness of the impulse from the tapping that probably makes it so effective, as no time is allowed for resistance or bracing as often happens during manual manipulation and training.

In addition to the clear possibility of two physiological mechanisms for local relaxation by tapotement, as I mentioned before, there is the gross appearance of an endorphin release during EndoTapping. It would be very interesting to measure blood levels of endorphins, as well as heart rate and other indicators of relaxation as the tapotement proceeds.

One must ask, what is the full description of release, expressed as we see it in the application of this tapotement technique in the horse? What we see is a variety of signs of relaxation: full exhalation, softening of expression involving the small muscles around the eyes, nostrils, and ears, chewing and salivation, and lowering of the head. What we feel manually at the same time is overall softening of muscles associated with these obvious outward signs. The local effects mediated by the anatomical elements of the muscle are only part of the overall effect. Clearly the brain responds to some systemic effector as well.

The possibility is also there that something about the tapping, the close physical presence and the repetitive contact, means something to a horse that we can only speculate about. Over the eons, the horse's evolution has created a program for flight, and as a flip side of that a program for rest (relaxation) and play (relaxed performance, our training goal). Everything that happens in the horse's natural world fits into one of these categories. He is informed by the horses around him in the herd. Somehow, perhaps, this tapping may sum up to a feeling of safety in his limbic system.

There are many questions raised by these observations. How many ways can relaxation be quantitated? By heart rate? By vasodilation, or dilation of the pupil in the eye?  By galvanic skin activity?

Can the involvement of the muscle spindle cell and the Golgi tendon apparatus be demonstrated? Neurophysiologic studies do address questions involving both the function and the anatomical mapping of these structures in animals. Can the release of endorphin, or other neuropeptide, be demonstrated? Presumably, if it occurs, it can be demonstrated.

How many things can this tapping method be used for? Calming?  Promoting physical and emotional healing?  Behavior change?  There is anecdotal evidence for all these. This is something which needs to be explored, understood more fully, refined, and made available for the benefit of the horses in our lives.